Armistice Day: The Wages of Stupid

In evaluating the causes of the Great War my lefty pal Michael Mann in his multi-volume The Sources of Social Power blames the warrior culture of the Central Powers emperors. Making war was all they knew and so that is what they did.

But I beg to differ. In my view the First World War, whose armistice in 1918 we remember this week, was merely the consequence of the normal idiots being idiots. In other words, Bismarck and Lord Salisbury were dead; there was nobody with half a brain to take their places, and so the normal rule of stupid prevailed and millions died.

Here is what I mean in respect of Bismarck. He was the guy that figured out how to create a united national German state out of the multitude of German principalities. He led the Germans into three nice little winnable wars, against Denmark(!), Austria, and France, in turn. Then he assembled all the German princes in Versailles in 1871 and declared the new German Reich before the euphoria of victory had had a chance to dissipate.

Good work, Otto: gold stars all round. But then came William II, Kaiser Bill. He didn’t have a clue, and so we got World War I.

I used to wonder about the career of Bismarck: what was the point of all those silly wars? Then I realized that the only way to unite humans is to get them into a nice big war. Think the U.S. in WWII. What better way to unite all the Jews, Italians, Irish and the rest of the 19th-century immigrant horde than to send all their boys to boot camp and turn them into 100-percent-American GIs. Hey, after World War II it took 20 years and the Sixties before Americans started scrapping with each other again.

So, you deep thinkers: what kind of a war will it take to make 100-percent-Americans out of the post-1965 immigrants?

Here is what I mean about Lord Salisbury. He was British prime minister on and off from 1885 to 1901. He was foreign secretary as well as prime minister, and ran foreign policy out of his back pocket to the dismay of the Deep State Sir Humphreys at the Foreign Office. His Big Idea was that Britain should not align in alliance with any of the European powers, neither France nor Germany. Hey it’s obvious. If Britain allied with France, Germany would get paranoid, and vice versa.

Guess what Lord Salisbury’s son-in-law Arthur Balfour did within a year of becoming prime minister? First thing he did was ally Britain with France in the Entente Cordiale! What do you think the Germans thought about that? I will tell you what they thought: Schlieffen Plan. And I don’t think that the Asquiths and Lloyd Georges had a clue either. That’s how you get World War I.

Then there was Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, he of “the lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time." Jolly good line, Sir Edward. But did you actually do anything to stop the lamps going out, pal?

Of course, then we get to the brilliant generals that sent the flower of Europe into the charnel house, although they did keep Ludwig Wittgenstein alive running an Austrian army vehicle repair shop so he could write his Tractatus, and I suspect that Austrian artillery officer Ludwig von Mises was also busy figuring out that socialism could not work because it could not compute prices.

Now, I don’t blame the clueless pols that blundered into World War I. Sure, the industrial revolution had invalidated the good old days of conquest, loot, and plunder. But it takes a while for the new reality to penetrate the skulls of intellectuals, politicians, and rulers, so you can’t expect your average politician to figure all that out in time to avoid World War I, the 1930s Soviet famine, the Holocaust, the 1950s China famine, etc. The only thing politicians know is power and division (Hello Barack!). So of course, they blundered into the bloodiest war of all time in 1914, and of course they botched the peace in the Versailles Treaty after 1918.

And of course, they botched the rise of Hitler. And nearly botched the peace after World War II. It was only the spectre of Stalinist Russia that convinced Truman and Marshall to revive defeated Germany and Japan as bulwarks against the most murderous regime in history.

Of course World War I was a tragic waste, of human life, of treasure: a triumph of folly. That’s the way of most politically related events: “And so it goes,” in the immortal words of Kurt Vonnegut.

What staggers me is that sometimes things go improbably right on the political front. George Washington. The U.S. Constitution. Alexander Hamilton. Ronald Reagan.

And then everything goes back to idiots-as-usual.

Christopher Chantrill @chrischantrill runs the go-to site on US government finances, usgovernmentspending.com. Also get his American Manifesto and his Road to the Middle Class.

In evaluating the causes of the Great War my lefty pal Michael Mann in his multi-volume The Sources of Social Power blames the warrior culture of the Central Powers emperors. Making war was all they knew and so that is what they did.

But I beg to differ. In my view the First World War, whose armistice in 1918 we remember this week, was merely the consequence of the normal idiots being idiots. In other words, Bismarck and Lord Salisbury were dead; there was nobody with half a brain to take their places, and so the normal rule of stupid prevailed and millions died.

Here is what I mean in respect of Bismarck. He was the guy that figured out how to create a united national German state out of the multitude of German principalities. He led the Germans into three nice little winnable wars, against Denmark(!), Austria, and France, in turn. Then he assembled all the German princes in Versailles in 1871 and declared the new German Reich before the euphoria of victory had had a chance to dissipate.

Good work, Otto: gold stars all round. But then came William II, Kaiser Bill. He didn’t have a clue, and so we got World War I.

I used to wonder about the career of Bismarck: what was the point of all those silly wars? Then I realized that the only way to unite humans is to get them into a nice big war. Think the U.S. in WWII. What better way to unite all the Jews, Italians, Irish and the rest of the 19th-century immigrant horde than to send all their boys to boot camp and turn them into 100-percent-American GIs. Hey, after World War II it took 20 years and the Sixties before Americans started scrapping with each other again.

So, you deep thinkers: what kind of a war will it take to make 100-percent-Americans out of the post-1965 immigrants?

Here is what I mean about Lord Salisbury. He was British prime minister on and off from 1885 to 1901. He was foreign secretary as well as prime minister, and ran foreign policy out of his back pocket to the dismay of the Deep State Sir Humphreys at the Foreign Office. His Big Idea was that Britain should not align in alliance with any of the European powers, neither France nor Germany. Hey it’s obvious. If Britain allied with France, Germany would get paranoid, and vice versa.

Guess what Lord Salisbury’s son-in-law Arthur Balfour did within a year of becoming prime minister? First thing he did was ally Britain with France in the Entente Cordiale! What do you think the Germans thought about that? I will tell you what they thought: Schlieffen Plan. And I don’t think that the Asquiths and Lloyd Georges had a clue either. That’s how you get World War I.

Then there was Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, he of “the lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time." Jolly good line, Sir Edward. But did you actually do anything to stop the lamps going out, pal?

Of course, then we get to the brilliant generals that sent the flower of Europe into the charnel house, although they did keep Ludwig Wittgenstein alive running an Austrian army vehicle repair shop so he could write his Tractatus, and I suspect that Austrian artillery officer Ludwig von Mises was also busy figuring out that socialism could not work because it could not compute prices.

Now, I don’t blame the clueless pols that blundered into World War I. Sure, the industrial revolution had invalidated the good old days of conquest, loot, and plunder. But it takes a while for the new reality to penetrate the skulls of intellectuals, politicians, and rulers, so you can’t expect your average politician to figure all that out in time to avoid World War I, the 1930s Soviet famine, the Holocaust, the 1950s China famine, etc. The only thing politicians know is power and division (Hello Barack!). So of course, they blundered into the bloodiest war of all time in 1914, and of course they botched the peace in the Versailles Treaty after 1918.

And of course, they botched the rise of Hitler. And nearly botched the peace after World War II. It was only the spectre of Stalinist Russia that convinced Truman and Marshall to revive defeated Germany and Japan as bulwarks against the most murderous regime in history.

Of course World War I was a tragic waste, of human life, of treasure: a triumph of folly. That’s the way of most politically related events: “And so it goes,” in the immortal words of Kurt Vonnegut.

What staggers me is that sometimes things go improbably right on the political front. George Washington. The U.S. Constitution. Alexander Hamilton. Ronald Reagan.

And then everything goes back to idiots-as-usual.

Christopher Chantrill @chrischantrill runs the go-to site on US government finances, usgovernmentspending.com. Also get his American Manifesto and his Road to the Middle Class.